A fragmented stone stele with 538 years of history was recently discovered in Huanghua city in Cangzhou, North China's Hebei Province.
According to inscriptions on the stele remnant, local archaeologists have determined it was made to commemorate a local temple dedicated to Bixia Yuanjun, a Taoist goddess believed to bless and bring good luck to people.
These types of temples are seen as representative carriers of "sea worship," an ancient tradition that is mostly celebrated in northern China, Zhang Baogang, the director of Huanghua museum, said.
The stele was made during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and is so far the region's earliest discovered relic documenting the folk tradition. It was 1.75 meters long and 0.4 meters wide.
Zhu Tong, a Chinese folk culture researcher, told the Global Times that sea worship involved offering sacrifices to the sea in order to wish for bountiful fishing.
"The tradition was also very popular in Shandong Province. It was most celebrated in coastal areas cities in ancient times and shows Chinese people's longstanding respect for nature," Zhu noted, adding that items used for the ceremony including dishes like pork chops and mantou (lit: steamed buns) and momo, or decorated steamed buns.
On the stele, there was a line that referenced Chang Lu Yan Fa Zhi, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) book about China's salt culture.
Zhang, the museum director, said that it reveals that people who lived in the area once made a living by extracting salt from seawater.
"The stone stele is of great value to the study of ancient northern sacrificial culture and ritual traditions," Zhu said.